In remembrance of me

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There are a lot of ways to understand what is happening in the Eucharist.  Transubstantiation, Transignification, Real Presence, Memorialism, Receptionism, and the list goes on.  This theological murkiness has occurred, in part, because Jesus wasn’t all that specific in what he meant when he said, “this is my body,” “this is my blood,” and “do this in remembrance of me.”  Depending on one’s tradition, one or more of these phrases (or even the words within them) can be given undue influence.

In our Gospel lesson for Sunday, as well as the Collect for Easter 3, we are put to mind that, for Luke, the common meal of Christians, commonly called the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist, Holy Communion, and the Great Thanksgiving, among other options, is about anamnesis: the remembering of an event based on past experience.  Cleopas and the unnamed disciples recognized Jesus in the breaking of the bread because four days earlier, they had seen him do the exact same thing.  Not that blessing and breaking bread was uncommon in 1st century Jewish life, but that this blessing, this breaking, was different.  It was the blessing of their Rabbi, now their risen Lord, who had commanded them to break bread and share the cup in remembrance of him.

Two thousand years removed from that first Last Supper, we who are people of broken bread don’t have the recollection of the past event to draw on for ourselves.  What we do have, however, is the unbroken history of bread being broken from a Thursday evening in first century Jerusalem all the way up to today.  Our remembrance, our anamnesis, is based on the shared experience of generations of believers.  We remember because we have been told the story by those who have been told the story… by those who lived the story.  When we pray that our eyes might be open, we are asking God to tap us into the ongoing unveiling of the story, that we might take our place in remembering and sharing the good news of the risen Lord.

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A Eucharistic Aside

As I’ve said before, one of the classes I’m taking here as Sewanee is a preaching class called “Preaching the Feasts.” I signed up for it because, like most preachers, I find preaching the red letter days to be both a) more challenging and b) more exciting that the ordinary (pardon the liturgical pun) Sundays of the year. What I found as the class began, however, was that this wasn’t just a class about preaching the feast days, but preaching the theological and doctrinal questions that the feast days bring up. I guess one should read the course description before signing up rather than merely scanning the course title and professors names because as you might imagine, this class is not easy for me.

The description for this blog is, “A blog about the Bible.” My task, four days a week, is to relate some portion of the lectionary to my life and the lives of those around me. My sermons are, to use the well worn and baggage laden phrase, biblically based and applicable to real life. So, when I’m invited to preach a feast day without reference to the Biblical text, my brain hurts. I preached an ok, albeit vignette heavy, sermon on Holy Saturday for class this week. I was told by the professor that it was “more pastoral than theological,” but all in all it went all right. As I think about the challenge of this course, however, I’m realizing that in order to overcome my love of the Biblical text, I’m going to have to deal with a feast that is specifically doctrinal.

Which leads me to my Eucharistic Aside. Today is the feast of Corpus Christi, a feast that does not actually appear on the calendar of The Episcopal Church, but which is remembered in many Anglo-Catholic parishes. Perhaps in my low church context, it could be replaced by World Communion Sunday, which is also not an authorized feast, though propers are provided in the Prayer Book for “Of the Holy Eucharist” in “Various Occasions” and without a fixed date. What each of these “feasts” do, however, is invite me to look beyond Jesus’ institution of the Lord’s Supper or Paul’s recollection of it in 1 Corinthians 11 and instead think about my theology of the Eucharist. What does it mean that I subscribe to a theology of transignification? How is Christ really present in the Eucharist? What does it do for us? Why is it central to our life of faith and worship?  What does it mean to venerate something, as in the Collect for the Holy Eucharist:

God our Father, whose Son our Lord Jesus Christ in a
wonderful Sacrament has left us a memorial of his passion:
Grant us so to venerate the sacred mysteries of his Body and
Blood, that we may ever perceive within ourselves the fruit
of his redemption; who lives and reigns with you and the
Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Tonight, I’ll be attending my first Corpus Christi service: A Service of Solemn Evensong and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. Setting aside the 39 Articles and the rubrics of the Prayer Book for an evening, I’m actually excited to ponder the impact that the Eucharist has me personally, on us corporately, and on how we look at the world around us. As preparation, I’m re-watching the Eucharist edition of the New Tracts for our Times.